Wax Lantern Procession of the Barbary Pirates

Festivals are viewed with high regard in Morocco and take place throughout the year to celebrate local traditions, customs and the arts. Visitors to this exotic country can enjoy an interesting aspect of the Moroccan way of life by attending festivals that coincide with their visit. In April each year the town of Salé celebrates the Wax Lantern Procession to honor the 16th century holy man Sidi Abdallah Ben Hassoun, the patron saint of travelers and the patron of the town.

The Wax Lantern Procession (also known as Mawkib Esh Shomouaa) is believed to date back to the Barbary period when pirates would parade through the town of Salécarrying wax lanterns to implore the patron saint of travelers to protect them on their voyage. Each year the shrine of Sidi Abdallah Ben Hassoun is visited by sailors dressed up as pirates who re-enact the Wax Lantern Procession by holding the lanterns high up on poles. As a Muslim holy place, the interior of the shrine (Zaouia) where the procession ends is forbidden to non-Muslims. Nevertheless the procession, which takes place in the evening, is a fascinating sight that can be viewed from numerous vantage points around the town of Salé.

Situated on the Atlantic coastline of Morocco, at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River, Salé was at one time notorious as a haven for Barbary pirates. In about 1630 Barbary pirates traveled the seas looking for opportunities to capture treasure. It is believed that they traveled as far as the Americas, bringing back booty and slaves to Salé. Interestingly, in Daniel Defoe’s renowned novel, Robinson Crusoe is held captive by the local pirates and after facing, and overcoming adversity, he sails off to freedom from the mouth of the Salé River.

The town of Salé has also played a positive role in Moroccan history. The first demonstrations for independence from French rule started in Salé. A number of prominent government officials, royal advisors and decision makers for both France and Morocco were born and raised in Salé. It is, however, the town’s pirate heritage which is remembered in the colorful Wax Lantern Procession – an event that is enjoyed by all.